Sidney Harman was an audio pioneer who built the first high-fidelity stereo receiver, served in education and government, and late-in-life, with virtually no media experience, acquired Newsweek magazine and wed it with a young Web site, The Daily Beast.
For most of his life, Mr. Harman was known as the scientist-businessman who co-founded Harman/Kardon in 1953 and made high-quality audio equipment for homes and businesses, and later navigational and other devices for cars. He made a fortune, and gave millions to education, the performing and fine arts, and other philanthropies.
But Mr. Harman, who was married to former Representative Jane Harman, a nine-term California Democrat, was also a health enthusiast, a scholar of boundless energy and utopian ideas, and something of a Renaissance man. He studied physics, engineering and social psychology; was a classical music fan and jazz aficionado; recited Shakespeare by heart; was a civil rights and antiwar activist; created programs to humanize the workplace; was the president of a Quaker college on Long Island; served as President Jimmy Carter's deputy secretary of commerce; published a memoir, "Mind Your Own Business: A Maverick's Guide to Business Leadership and Life" in 2003; and was still active in business in his 90s.
Sidney Harman was born in Montreal on Aug. 4, 1918, and grew up in New York City, where his father worked at a hearing-aid company. In 1939 he graduated from a branch of City College that became Baruch College, earning a degree in physics. He found an engineering job with the David Bogen Company, a New York maker of loudspeakers. After Army service in 1944-45, he returned to the company and by the early 1950s was general manager.
At a time when sophisticated hi-fi radio required a tuner to capture signals, a pre-amplifier, a power amp and speakers, Mr. Harman and Bernard Kardon, Bogen's chief engineer, quit their jobs in 1953, put up $5,000 each and founded Harman/Kardon. It produced the first integrated hi-fi receiver, the Festival D1000. It was hugely successful. Mr. Kardon retired in 1956, and in 1958 Mr. Harman created the first hi-fi stereo receiver, the Festival TA230. In later years, the company made speakers, amplifiers, noise-reduction devices, video and navigation equipment, voice-activated telephones, climate controls and home theater systems.
In the 1960s Mr. Harman was an active opponent of the Vietnam War, and for a year taught black pupils in Prince Edward County, Va., after public schools there were closed in a notorious effort to avoid desegregation. From 1968 to 1971 he was president of Friends World College, a Quaker institution in Suffolk County. In 1973 he earned a doctorate from the Cincinnati-based Union Institute and University.
In the early 1970s he created a program to provide employees at his Bolivar, Tenn., automotive parts plant with training, flexible hours and work assignments, stock ownership and other benefits that eased tensions with management and raised productivity. It was hailed as visionary and scorned as impractical. But President Carter was impressed, and made him deputy secretary of commerce. He served in 1977-78. Mr. Harman was the co-author, with the pollster Daniel Yankelovich, of "Starting With the People" (1988), an analysis of national policies through a prism of public values.
Mr. Harman sold his company to avoid conflicts of interest during his government service, and bought it back a few years later at a profit. Renamed Harman International Industries, with headquarters in Stamford, Conn., he took it public in 1986, and retired as chairman in 2008. He joined the University of Southern California in 2008 as Presidential Professor and the Isaias W. Hellman Professor of Polymathy, lecturing on architecture, medicine, law, economics and other subjects. He was the founder of the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study.
He donated $20 million for the Shakespeare Theater Company's Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, and was a trustee of the Aspen Institute, the California Institute of Technology, Freedom House, the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the National Symphony Orchestra.
His first marriage, to the former Sylvia Stern, ended in divorce; they had four children, Lynn, Gina, Paul, and Barbara. He married the former Jane Lakes in 1980. They had two children, Daniel and Justine Harman, both of New York City.
Mr. Harman passed away on April 12, 2011 in Washington D.C. at the age of 92 of complications from acute myeloid leukemia.